Vikings Season 6 – Amazon Prime

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I’ve learnt not to expect historical accuracy from Vikings, but, even so, I was lost for words when Ivar the Boneless and Oleg of Novgorod flew over 9th century Kiev/Kyiv in a sled-drawn parachute balloon.  This was followed by the Varangian warriors spending their evening doing Cossack dancing.  Meanwhile, back in Scandinavia, Bjorn Ironside was trying to rescue Harald Fairhair, who was being held prisoner by Olaf the Stout and Canute the Great (that’s Canute of holding back the waves fame) … which was quite surprising, considering that neither of the captors were born until a century or so after this was taking place, and Olaf was actually Harald’s great-great-great-grandson.  It went belly up, and Bjorn Ironside and his men tried to swim to safety, only to end up surrounded by a ring of fire.

By this point, I really wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid if Bjorn Borg, Bjorn Ulvaeus and all four members of Bjorn Again had rolled up in a longboat to rescue them.  I just wanted to know how Lagertha, who’d retired from public life to live as a private person (like Harry and Meghan, but without all the whingeing), but had then agreed to lead her female neighbours in an all-women army to resist attacks by bandits (Lagertha is far and away my favourite character), got her hair into that complicated coronal of plaits.  It really did look very smart, especially for a farmstead on a beach.

I do love Vikings really.  I’m very put out that this is the last series.

The Bjorn/Harald/Canute stuff was just beyond silly. OK, it’s hardly meant to be a documentary, but surely they could at least try to keep people in the right century?  And why on earth had Canute been transformed into Harald’s dogsbody?   Not impressed.  The Lagertha storyline, whilst entirely fictional, was fascinating, though.  The idea was that she was approached by a group of women and children who, with most of their menfolk dead from raiding ‘n’ trading and those still living being away, were vulnerable to raids by bandits.  Their settlement had been attacked and the women raped, and some of the children murdered.  And their food supplies had been stolen.   It’s something that must have happened to a lot of real Viking-era communities.

And Kievan Rus.  Yes, I know that Ukraine prefers “Kyiv” to “Kiev”, and I do usually respect that, but no-one ever says “Kyivan Rus”.  As a Russian history specialist, and someone who’s been to both Kyiv/Kiev and Novgorod, I was rather excited to find Oleg of Novgorod featuring in this series.  And most of what was shown was based on … well, the facts as far as they’re known.  Oleg did indeed conquer Kiev and raid Constantinople, and the story about him refusing a cup of poisoned wine, also mentioned, is, if not necessarily a fact, a well-known legend.  Like Canute and the Waves, probably!  Looks like a pop group when written like that, but never mind.

What about the other Varangians?  Well, we saw little Igor, Oleg’s eventual successor, the son of Rurik. Oleg was indeed his guardian, and, as the programme showed, quite possibly his maternal uncle.  However, in this, Askold and Dir were also Igor’s uncles, Oleg’s brothers – whereas, in fact (as far as fact is known), they were the rulers of Kiev whom Oleg defeated.  There is a story that Askold was actually Bjorn Ironside’s son, but the scriptwriters didn’t go for that.  I suppose it was a bit late to bring in an adult son at this point!  Or maybe the son of Hvitserk, another of Ragnar Lothbrok (I do miss Ragnar!)’s sons, but, although Hvitserk’s included in the series, they didn’t go for that option either.

It’s all a bit complicated!   I’m so chuffed that the Varangians have been included, though.  They usually get forgotten when people are talking about Vikings.  But there’s certainly nothing in history to suggest that Oleg ever met Ivar the Boneless.  As for the parachute balloon thing …

And I’m not convinced about the Varangian warriors doing Cossack dancing!  They did generally seem very Russian/Ukrainian, although Oleg himself chatted away merrily in Old Norse.  The issue of whether the Rus were of Scandinavian origin, Slavic origin, or probably a mixture, is complex, and quite sensitive.  Russian history works much better if you downplay the Viking connection, just as English history works much better if you downplay the Norman influence.   However, I don’t think the scriptwriters were trying to align themselves with any one school of historical thought.  Cossack dancing just looks good!!

And it all looked good.  OK, OK, it wasn’t very accurate, but it was really good fun – and it didn’t actually stray into the realms of fantasy.  There was a bit of supernatural stuff going on, but that was mainly about prayers and rituals: we didn’t have elves or hobbits or even trolls running about.  I’m just sad that this is the final series!   There are more episodes to come, but we’ve been told that there won’t be a “Season 7”.  I’ve watched it from the start, and will be sad to see it end.  Balloons nothwithstanding …

The Vikings Uncovered – BBC 1

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Word PressThis programme featured a bloke in a red dicky bow waving around a large piece of fake poo over afternoon tea at Bettys.  Seriously, it did.  Dan Snow then explained that the wearer of the dicky bow was a “scatologist”, and the said scatologist then proceeded to declare that the city of York lay on top of, amongst other things, about ten feet of “excrement”.  Whilst he was doing this, the cameras focused in on all the delicious cakes which Dan and the poo bloke were about to eat.  Thank you for that, BBC.  I need to obliterate that entire scene from my memory before the next time I go anywhere near a branch of Bettys.

The point of programme was (presumably) not, in fact, to put you off your afternoon tea, but to discuss whether or not the Vikings reached North America … which was a bit odd, really, because surely everyone is by now well aware that they did.  Anyway, they tried to find evidence of Viking settlements (other than the one in Newfoundland which everyone already knows about) by using satellite photography taken from space, a technique which has already been used to identify archaeological sites in Egypt and which, since this programme was filmed, has been suggested as a way of helping to try to rebuild Palmyra.  The team concerned identified a possible site, and started digging.

Whilst they were digging, Dan Snow went off on a tour of various other Viking sites.  He went to Copenhagen.  He went to the Shetland Islands.  He went to York … as already mentioned.  He then went to Iceland.  Cue some glorious scenery, some shots of the site of the world’s oldest parliament, and the obligatory pictures of the Northern Lights.  He also discussed the recent work which has found that many of the “Viking” settlers in Iceland may in fact have been from the British Isles, something which the press got very excited about … last year, I think.  I could have done without the incredibly rude bloke who said that he hated having to admit that Icelanders might have British connections and that the Vikings must have taken all the pretty women away from the British Isles – I wish Dan had given him a good slap – but it was still quite interesting.  Then on to Greenland, where Dan got to do a load of Boys’ Own stuff – sailing around icebergs, mainly.

By the time he’d done all that, the team in Newfoundland had finished doing their digging, and had found various things which they thought were evidence of Viking settlements.  Most of them proved to be red herrings but, in true Boys’ Owen fashion, the last lot did indeed prove to be evidence (although I gather that some experts aren’t 100% convinced) that the Vikings reached Point Rosee in South West Newfoundland.  Hooray!  Dan and the “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak carried on as if they’d just rewritten history.  They hadn’t, really, because everyone already knew that the Vikings had reached North America; but this site was around 370 miles from the only other Viking settlement found in Newfoundland so far, and so it does now seem that the Vikings got a fair bit further west than previously proven, and it also seems likely that there may be other sites waiting to be unearthed.

So it was quite exciting, really, even if probably not quite as exciting as they made out.  And the Boys’ own iceberg stuff was quite exciting as well.  But fake poo at Bettys … please!  That was taking the schoolboy thing a bit too far 🙂 !!